Category: the library jewel’s questions



Thank you for asking! This year I have been writing a poem each day. The project, inspired by Julie Reimer, a dear librarian friend from Minnesota, has led me to some fascinating and surprising places in my work. So far, one book, a picture book with the working title of THUMB, has come out of this year-long project. We’re nearly at the end of our year now and I’m not certain whether I’ll continue into the coming year, though it has been such a revelation for me I suspect I might indeed continue. I also intend to look at the 365 poems I’ve produced and see whether I might like to publish the best of them. What do you think?


Walking, either by myself or with someone who allows me to think aloud, helps me more, calms me, comforts me more than anything when I’m working through a difficult section of a book…or of my life.

I love the entire process of writing, all of the research, all of the revision, all of the give and take with an editor and with additional readers. I love all of the hard work. I don’t mind the lack of sleep, the lack of a social life, the expense of acquiring research materials, or the travel to better understand setting, plot, or character.

For me there is no least favorite part of the writing process.

I have had the great pleasure of getting to know a precious handful of Newbery Award winning authors. I care deeply about each of them and we do stay in touch to the best of our ability. Those of you who cherish these authors because of their work are wise. Please know they can be cherished, as well, for their pure selves. They are human beings of profound generosity and compassion. (photo of Katherine Paterson from the Washington Post, photo of Kate DiCamillo from the internet, photos of Jerry Spinelli and his lovely and talented wife Eileen, and of Sharon Creech are my own)

That’s an easy one, Jewel. Everyone is special and should feel honored.

At a book signing all one has to do is look up.

(photo courtesy of Del Webb)


She had me at The Master Puppeteer, The Sign of the Chrysanthemum, and Of Nightingales that Weep.

I admire many authors and illustrators, but Katherine, like no one else, leaves me wide-eyed and speechless with wonder and awe.

Essentially, I am always writing. Walking down a wet Paris street I am taking everything in with all of my senses.  The feast that is “Paris in the rain” will be stored inside my brain in a thousand different compartments. When I sit down to actually write, when I go searching inside the endless cubbies in my brain, I will slide open a drawer and voila, I will find just what I need, stored there weeks, months, years in the past, waiting for just the right opportunity to be useful. So no, I never feel guilty when I’m not writing because, in a way, for me, living life is writing. At least it has been until now.

When I’ve worked on a draft for months and taken it as far as I can at that time I hand it off to be read by others. After working for hours, weeks, months on a project, I lose all objectivity (if I ever had any to begin with). My brain roils, unwilling to let the story go, unable to determine whether the words I’ve set down make any sense at all outside of my head. It’s a terrible time for me. A time of emotional storm. Removing the manuscript from my hands takes a moment; removing it from the front burner of my brain takes days. But by the time the manuscript returns to me I’m able to look at it anew and consider the suggestions and questions my reader(s) have asked about it. I exit from the world again for another few months as I re-craft the book. Then, again, when I reach the point of roiling storm I hand the manuscript to a new pair of eyes, to fresh readers. This goes on over the course of a couple of years until the storm in my brain is unbearable, I can no longer sleep, I am a stranger to myself, and my sensibilities have become more deeply seated in the fictional world than in the real one. That is when, finally, I let the manuscript go for good.

Nearly every day I loop my camera strap over my head and step out into the afternoon. Jean Feiwel, my extraordinary editor, has followed my forays into the world of photography for a long time. Many of the images used in SAFEKEEPING were taken before Jean and I agreed to use photographs in the book. Because I had no intention of “literally” illustrating the book, the images did not require a one-on-one correlation with the text. Therefore, I could have drawn from my archives of nearly 20,000 images and had more than enough material. The need to walk Radley’s walk, however, sent me out with my camera through wind and rain and fog along the route my narrator traveled. As a result, I had an additional several thousand photographs from the walk through New Hampshire and Vermont in the spring of 2011. Winnowing down that mass of photographic material to the select group included in the book was an enormous project. I considered the subject of each photograph, its emotional tone, its quality, and its accessibility. In the end every image had to pass rigorous tests, technical as well as compositional…each image had to speak to the reader at face level, but it also had to ask a subtle question of the reader…not pulling them out of the story, rather drawing them more deeply inside it. Even after the galleys were printed I was still making changes and substitutions. Even now, if Jean would permit me, I’d make changes. But the book is out of my hands and the images I selected in my final pass are the images that will follow SAFEKEEPING through its life as a book.

No. As often happens during the writer’s long process of creation, coincidences occur, disparate pieces link together to suggest commonalities. I’ve heard it said that there are no accidents. But often I discover only after a book is published (and a reader points it out) a symmetry I had not intended.

Although I’d been working on COME ON, RAIN! when a question from Eileen Christelow set me to thinking about the dustbowl, I didn’t intend to create a study of opposites with the two books. I simply followed the path of one book to the other and then back again.

The interpretation, the connection making, is often best left to readers who frequently discover parallels the writer never realized she/he was creating.